Setting

Jesus first appeared to Mary after His resurrection. Then He appeared twice to the disciples while they were behind closed doors, the second time particularly for the benefit of Thomas. Chapter 21, the epilogue of the Gospel, narrates yet another appearance of Jesus to the disciples. The setting now is the Sea of Tiberias, where the disciples have gone fishing. After the disciples have toiled all night without catching anything, Jesus manifests His power and gives them a miraculous catch. On this occasion, the Lord Jesus entrusts Peter the important pastoral commission and renews Peter’s commitment to follow the Lord.

Key Verse

(21:18-19)

Did You Know...?

1. Sea of Tiberias (21:1) is another name for the Sea of Galilee ( Jn 6:1).

2. Put on (21:7): The Greek verb means to “tie around.” We may infer from this word that Peter probably put a belt around his garment so he could swim ashore.

3. Two hundred cubits (21:8) is about one hundred yards.

Outline

  • Jesus’ Third Appearance to the Disciples
    (21:1–14)
  • Jesus’ Commission to Peter
    (21:15–19)
  • The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
    (21:20–23)
  • The Writing of the Gospel
    (21:24–25)

Keywords/Phrases

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General Analysis

  • 1.

    Compare this story with Lk 5:1–11. What similarities and contrasts do you see?

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    In both stories the disciples had toiled all night and caught nothing, but at Jesus’ instructions they let down the net and caught a great number of fish. In Luke 5, the disciples forsook all and followed Jesus after the miracle. In John 21, the Lord Jesus commanded Peter to follow Him after the miracle. In both stories there was also some form of sudden realization (Lk 5:8,9 and Jn 21:7). In terms of contrast between the two stories, we read in Luke 5 that they left their profession as fishermen and followed the Lord Jesus. In John 21, those who had already been following the Lord had gone fishing.

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Segment Analysis

  • 21:1–14

    1.

    What feelings do you get out of verse 3?

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    Simon Peter’s announcement that he was going fishing turns our attention to the fishing expedition. As readers we anticipate some outcome to this undertaking. At the same time, it appears that none of the disciples had a clear sense of purpose. They simply followed along when Peter told them his intention. The result of their group effort was disappointing. The fact that there were experienced fishermen among them did not help. Even just this one task they thought they could engage in turned out to be fruitless.

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  • 2.

    What do you think made the disciple whom Jesus loved realize that it was the Lord? What does his recognition of the Lord tell you about him?

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    The miraculous catch of fish at Jesus’ instructions must have been the point of the disciple’s realization. The fact that he was so quick to recognize the Lord and the first to do so is a sign that he was intimately acquainted with the ways of the Lord and that the grace of the Lord had been deeply impressed in his heart. Furthermore, the Lord’s resurrection must have had such a profound significance for him (cf. Jn 20:8) that it helped him readily recognize the Lord this time.

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  • 3.

    What is the point of the comment in verse 11?

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    The comment that the net was not broken underscores the greatness of the miracle. The Lord Jesus not only gave them such a great catch, He also kept the net from breaking.

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  • 4.

    Why do you think the disciples dared not ask Jesus who He was?

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    The passage itself does not explain the reason for the disciples’ timidity in the presence of Jesus. Their behavior forms a rather sharp contrast with their first encounter with the risen Lord (cf. Jn 20:20). If what the disciples were doing was resuming an occupation they had once left behind, it is possible that they were embarrassed by, if not ashamed of, what they were doing. But it could also be that the disciples found it difficult to grasp the fact that it was indeed their risen Lord who had just performed such a great miracle and was now preparing breakfast for them. Thus we sense a tension between their wanting to ask who He was and not daring to do so.

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  • 5.

    What did you learn about the Lord Jesus from what He said and did in this segment?

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    The Lord Jesus had a higher purpose for manifesting Himself to the disciples than giving them a great catch of fish. He had an important commission for Peter that pertained to the spiritual wellbeing of believers in Christ. Nevertheless, He did not ignore the disciples’ immediate physical and emotional needs. He did not come to them as a fearsome taskmaster, but as One who cared about them when they had toiled to no avail and had nothing to eat after a long night on the sea. He exemplified the loving shepherd that He wanted Peter to be. Sometimes, in our eagerness to see the accomplishment of God’s work or some positive change in others, we might have neglected their needs and forgotten to provide for those needs. When guiding someone who is going through low points, our acts of kindness may be much more needed and far more encouraging than long lectures or words of rebuke.

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  • 21:15–19

    6a.

    Why did the Lord Jesus ask Peter if he loved Him?

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    Taking care of the Lord’s sheep is ultimately done for the sake of the Lord, who is the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet 5:4). Love for the Lord, therefore, is the basic motivation for loving His flock.

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  • 6b.

    What was Jesus’ point for repeating His question and command three times?

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    Jesus’ repeated questions were deeply penetrating, so much so that Peter was grieved (v. 17). They served to make Peter reflect on the weight of the commission that the Lord was entrusting him with and on his commitment to this cause. The Lord cares about His flock, and He needs shepherds who can feed and tend His lambs and sheep. But being a shepherd on the Lord’s behalf is no easy task; it involves much attentiveness, patience, and sacrifice. To do this work, one needs to have an unceasing love for the Lord and to constantly remember the importance of this duty. The repetitions underscored the solemnity of this important duty.

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  • 7.

    What does it mean to feed or tend the Lord’s sheep?

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    Feeding and tending the Lord’s sheep means watching over the spiritual wellbeing of believers. This includes teaching them to observe the word of the Lord (cf. Mt 28:20; Acts 20:27, 32; Ezek 37:24); guarding them against false doctrines (cf. Acts 20:29–31); seeking those who are lost (cf. Ezek 34:11, 12, 16; Lk 15:4–6; Gal 6:1); and leading the flock by example (cf. 1 Pet 5:3).

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  • 8.

    What essential qualities are required to care for the Lord’s sheep?

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    The qualifications of an overseer laid down in the Bible delineate the qualities required of a spiritual shepherd, since the function of overseers was to shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2). An overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, a lover of what is good, just, holy, self-controlled, able to teach, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his house well, having his children in submission with all reverence, not a novice, and has a good testimony among those who are outside (1 Tim 3:2–7; Tit 1:6–9).

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  • 9.

    Why is it important to remind ourselves that the sheep and lambs we care for are the Lord’s?

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    Our Lord Jesus loves His sheep and died for them. When we remember how precious the flock we shepherd is to Him, we will do our utmost to take good care of it because we are doing so for Him. As shepherds, we are accountable to the Lord. To love His sheep and to care for them is to love the Lord (Jn 21:15–17; cf. Mt 25:40; 1 Cor 8:9–13; 1 Jn 4:20, 21).

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  • 10a.

    What difference in tone can you discern between “You know that I love you” (15–17) and “I will lay down my life for Your sake” (Jn 13:37)?

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    When Peter said, “I will lay down my life for Your sake,” he had not gone through the test. He spoke with resolve and self-confidence, not realizing his weaknesses and limitations. Now, having denied the Lord three times, he could no longer speak as a hero about his love for the Lord, but could only humbly entrust himself to the Lord’s knowledge of him. Although Peter had failed to keep his vows in the face of danger, he trusted that the Lord who knows all things knew that Peter truly loved Him in his heart.

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  • 10b.

    What lesson can we learn from this change in attitude?

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    If we have true love for the Lord in our hearts, the Lord knows, even if we do not declare it out loud. Self-confidence and determination can only take us so far, but the grace of the Lord will see us through to the end. The Lord knows what is in our hearts and what our limitations are, and He will help us if we come before Him in humility and sincerity while we do our best to serve Him. Walking closely with our Lord and entrusting ourselves to Him in this manner will enable us to faithfully carry out His commission.

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  • 11.

    How does Jesus’ prediction concerning Peter’s old age relate to what He had entrusted Peter with?

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    The Lord’s commission demanded that Peter live no longer for himself but for the Lord. As a shepherd of the Lord’s flock, he would have to surrender himself completely to the Lord’s will, even if it means suffering the persecution of men as a result.

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  • 12.

    Peter’s death would bring glory to God. What does this reveal about the sufferings that come our way?

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    As believers of Christ, our sufferings are not without meaning. When we suffer according to God’s will (i.e., rather than suffer for wrongdoing), we are glorifying God (1 Pet 2:11, 12; 4:12–16). Therefore, we ought not view our sufferings as a curse but accept them as from our Father’s hand (Heb 12:5–11).

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  • 13.

    What do you learn from this passage about the meaning of following the Lord Jesus?

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    Following Christ means not only experiencing miraculous providence or receiving the good things we ask for, but also participating in His sufferings according to His example. As followers of Christ, we should not let our lives be centered on ourselves. We must love the Lord and put Him first by doing His will and caring for the sheep of His flock. This takes humility, dedication, patience, and endurance. To attain this goal, we cannot just rely on our commitment the way Peter vouched to follow Jesus till death (cf. Jn 13:37), but we need to place our trust in the Lord, who knows our hearts and graciously supplies us with the strength we need.

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  • 21:20–23

    14.

    What lesson did the Lord teach Peter here about discipleship?

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    The Lord may have different plans and paths for each disciple, yet every follower of Christ is personally accountable to the Lord. We should not compare what we may go through with the lot others have received from the Lord. Regardless of the specific purpose God has assigned us, our call is the same, which is to follow the Lord Jesus to the end. If our focus is on Christ Jesus and His will for us, then we would not be proud of the better things we have received or complain of the trials that others do not seem to have to bear. We would just faithfully take up our cross daily and follow the Lord (Lk 9:23).

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  • 21:24–25

    15.

    Why is the testimony of the disciple important to this book?

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    Since the Gospel is written essentially as a call to faith (Jn 20:31), the author lays particular stress on credible testimony of what Jesus taught and did. Faith must rest on something that is true, and reliable testimony lends weight to the truths written in the book.

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